Charges accusing a woman of trying to build bridges between the Russian government and American political leaders via the National Rifle Association have delivered a breakthrough in understanding one aspect of the attack on the 2016 election: "infiltration."
After months of questions and speculation as to how or whether the NRA connection might have worked, prosecutors proffered an answer on Monday: The Russian woman, Maria Butina, was the intermediary between Russian government officials and Americans, both in the NRA and elsewhere in politics, according to court documents.
The government says she was acting as a foreign agent without registering. Her attorney called the charges overblown, as NPR's Carrie Johnson reported.
A grand jury in Washington D.C. returned an indictment against Butina on Tuesday afternoon.
Butina allegedly serves or served as the deputy to someone identified in court papers only as a "Russian official," who is probably Alexander Torshin, a now-sanctioned Kremlin official who cultivated relationships with American political leaders and the NRA over several years.
The two "took these steps in order to infiltrate these groups and advance the interests of the Russian Federation," FBI Special Agent Kevin Helson said in an affidavit that accompanied the criminal complaint.